Union threat to FA on Ferdinand ban

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The head of the footballer's union yesterday threatened to sever relations with the Football Association, the sports governing body, after the eight-month ban handed out to the England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand for missing a drugs test.

"Our relationship with the FA is in danger of breaking down completely," said Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association.

The FA will face a legal challenge from Manchester United, which paid £30m for the player in 2002, if an appeal is turned down.

"He may have to go to court and he has a right to, to protect his reputation," the Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said. "I think the club would support him."

Relations between the FA and the players are already strained over the Ferdinand affair. In October the England team threatened to strike after the defender was dropped from the England squad because of the charge.

The players claimed the decision to drop Ferdinand from the squad had, in effect "named and shamed" him.

"The governing body appears to be operating in a vacuum," Mr Taylor said. "We will have to seriously consider our co-operation with them over a range of issues. The FA has responded to outside pressures and has hung Rio out to dry.

"I don't think there has been a penalty as strict as this one for non-compliance in any sport. They are making up policy on the hoof."

A breakdown in relations could affect future drug tests. Mr Taylor has threatened to boycott the tests if a player is "named and shamed" again.

Sven Goran Eriksson, who wrote to the tribunal in support of Ferdinand, said yesterday: "With regard to Rio, I am sorry for him. I am sure he will be disappointed to miss football for eight months and I am sure he will see it as a blow to miss Euro 2004, but I must respect the commission's decision."

Manchester United, which condemned the ban as "savage and unprecedented" on Friday, is not discussing the matter publicly on legal advice, as an appeal is pending.

Ferguson even hinted Ferdinand may never play for England again if he is forced to miss next summer's European Championships in Portugal because of the suspension.

"When he was left out of the England team, that condemned him right away," he said. "Whether he ever wants to play for them again is another matter."

The club believes the three-man commission was not independent as all were members of the FA board. Ferguson is also furious at the "interference" in the case by Sepp Blatter, president of the world's governing body Fifa, which he believes put pressure on the FA to take a hard line.